I swear that this will be my last article about asparagus for a while, however I did promise some cooking and serving methods, so here they are, along with some other tidbits.
Asparagus is an extremely nutritious vegetable which is high in folic acid, potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C, and thiamine. It has No Fat, contains No cholesterol and is low in sodium, not to mention having one of the highest levels of protein of all vegetables. Basically, this stuff is a tasty nutrition bomb.
The young shoots of the plant are the only part that are eaten, and typically the younger the shoot, the better the taste of the asparagus. Also, usually the earlier in the season that the spears are grown and harvested, the better the taste and texture. Hence so much attention being paid to this topic right now.
When cooking fresh, young, early season asparagus I rarely ever peel them. This time of year the shoots tend to be thin and tender. Later in the season, peeling definitely improves the typically thicker and tougher stalks. No matter the season, the bottoms should always be removed.
The easiest way to trim the bottoms is with a sharp chef’s knife. Leave the stalks bundled together with the rubber band or tie that stores use to keep the spears in a bunch. Choose one stalk on the outside and grasp the bottom and bend. The place where it snaps will provide a guide for cutting the rest of the bunch.
Steaming is one of the most popular ways to cook asparagus. Many recipes call for the the stalks to be bundled and then steamed while standing upright. The theory is that the thicker bottoms will then allow the tougher bottoms to become more tender. That sounds like a load of crap to me. The toughest part has already been cut away if you trim it properly, and bundling will allow the outside stalks to cook faster than the inner ones. Just steam them as you would any other vegetable.
Steaming for 5-7 minutes over heavily salted water should do the trick. If you plan to use it in a salad, immediately plunge it into an ice water bath to bring out a spectacular green color and to stop the cooking. Dressing steamed asparagus with a little lemon and butter is a simple and elegant dish. Perhaps topped with a little freshly grated Parmesan cheese if you really want it to be special. Hollandaise sauce is also a popular dressing. There are many recipes for hollandaise available, and the way I tend to make mine these days is probably not for either the faint of heart nor is it likely to be a technique for anyone who is searching for a recipe, so I will spare you all the agony of curdled sauce.
One of my favorite ways to prepare asparagus is to grill it. My preferred method is to coat the prepared spears in a mixture of honey, a little fish sauce, and sesame oil. Once the asparagus is well coated and sticky, toss with a generous amount of sesame seeds. Mixing black and white looks really cool. Cook over very hot coals. The idea is to get the sesame seeds nice and toasted and just the right amount of char on the asparagus without burning or overcooking. This also works under the broiler. This is a very wine friendly method of preparation.
Then there are the leftovers. Leftover asparagus is fantastic. Chop it into a salad or an omelet, add it to risotto, put it on a turkey sandwich, or whatever strikes your fancy. Here are two recipes that call for leftover asparagus.
The first is quite easy. Take a nice crusty piece of artisan-style bread, I prefer something whole grain with seeds. Toast it, spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on it, add a nice layer of turkey, ham, or both, and top with leftover asparagus. Place under the broiler until just warm. Remove, add a slice or two of swiss cheese and place back under the broiler until the cheese bubble and just starts to have a browned spot, or two.
The second is not quite so easy, and probably requires that I write an actual recipe. *sigh* The demands you folks make on me…
Crespelles With Asparagus
Crespelles are basically crepes with a different name just to piss off the French. They are fairly easy to make as long as you take care to make sure that the batter is smooth, you let the batter rest as directed, you have a good, thick non-stick pan, and that you take care to watch that they don’t burn.
2 cups flour
2 cups of milk
1/4 tsp salt
1 large onion – sliced
Use a whisk to combine the flour and salt. Crack the eggs into the flour and start to whisk until the eggs have absorbed as much flour as possible. Slowly pour in about 1/4 cup of the milk while whisking.
Once this is well incorporated start drizzling in more milk while whisking until the batter is thin and lump free. Don’t worry that the batter looks to thin, it will thicken as the flour absorbs the liquid as it rests. Set aside and let rest as you slice the onion.
In a thick saute pan melt some butter and add the onions and season with salt and pepper. Cook until nicely carmelized, remove from heat. In a bowl, mix the onions, hollandaise and very coarsely chopped asparagus and set aside.
Place your non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, using a paper towel or a piece of parchment paper, wipe with a small amount of butter. This is probably the point where you burn yourself and call me nasty names. That’skay, I can take it. Immediately ladel in enough batter so that swirling the pan results in the bottom being entirely covered. Swirl until the layer is fairly even and then place back on the burner. Cook until golden on the bottom, about a minute and then flip, cooking about 45 more seconds. Remove and repeat until you crespelles are all cooked.
Fill with the asparagus filling, fold and press so that there is a thin even layer inside. Place in a glass baking dish. Repeat and layer the entire baking dish with about 1/2 of each crespelle overlapping the next one. Top with some dollops of goat cheese and bake at 375 until the edges are crispy.
I now promise not to mention asparagus for at least 48 hours. Enjoy!